JACOB Thomas becomes quite emotional when talking about a personal experience of overcoming the loss of a friend to suicide, the subsequent emotional breakdown and rebuilding their life to go on to become an outstanding member of the LGBTI community.

These are some of the reasons why Thomas is one of two Australians — and one of 60 across the Commonwealth — to have just won a Queen’s Young Leaders award for 2016.

[showads ad=MREC] “With this sort of stuff it’s not always a happy story that kicks it off,” Thomas tells the Star Observer.

“In 2010 I lost a very dear friend to suicide… I was really shaken by that experience and it was entirely unexpected.”

After the suicide Thomas, who identifies as gender queer, had a breakdown. However, thanks to the support of some good friends Thomas was able to “rehabilitate himself” and decided to make a difference.

“That pain that I went through nobody should ever have to go through that in their life, or if they do have to go through that pain they are best looked after and are able to recalibrate their life,” Thomas says.

The 25-year-old went on to work with a number of businesses and organisations including It Gets Better and has been dedicated to reducing the rate of suicide in the LGBTI community.

It was for this work that Thomas won the Queen’s Young Leader Award, which recognises young people aged between 18 and 29 as exceptional leaders in their community who are taking the lead to transform the lives of others and make a lasting difference.

The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme was established as a four-year program in 2014 by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

The trust’s chief executive Dr Astrid Bonfield said: “Once again we recognise not only what these amazing young people have achieved, but also their potential in changing people’s lives for the better in the countries and communities in which they live.”

Thomas self-nominated their work because they believe in “backing yourself and being your own champion”.

“You can’t be reliant on people being aware of the work that you’re doing,” Thomas says.

“The award is about recognising you have something to contribute.

“There’s a part of me that doesn’t wants to be noticed… it means that you can’t be impactful and you’re ability to contribute becomes limited.”

In June, Thomas heads over to London to be presented his award by Queen Elizabeth and says they are beyond excited about the prospect of meeting her.

“I’m pretty pumped, I will be honest,” they say.

“This is absolutely beyond my dreams of what I thought I’d be doing in my mid-20s.

“It’s been a hard slog, I honestly didn’t think I’d get to see my 21st birthday… and just over four years later to have this opportunity and go over to London.

“It’s just an incredibly humbling experience but absolutely humbling at the same time.”

If you or someone you know needs support and counselling please contact either Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline: 13 11 14

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